Class Stories as Reading Resources

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18 thoughts on “Class Stories as Reading Resources”

  1. In the Shuen story – she is a wine glass – she is excluded from the other wine glasses and left alone in IKEA. She falls out of a Barbie car.

    This connects to insights made by Tina in A Natural Approach to Stories about how there is so much in some of these stories that goes deep with kids. Here are a couple of examples from Tina’s classes. The examples are taken from A Natural Approach to Stories:

    The very best problems and characters touch on archetypal, ancient, universal human truths, and thus tap into the collective unconscious mind of the group. This vaults the story easily to compelling levels.

    Frederick had a horrific skeletal zombie appearance but craved love. He was isolated and alone. Everyone ran from him due to his frightening looks. And yet he craved love. How else can the teenager who created Frederick send that message to his peers but through his character? This is the obvious problem for this character and it taps into a universal adolescent concern.

    Jill the Krill – one of a great many invisible characters along with Frederick who have occupied Tina’s classroom this year – was the world’s only pink krill in a sea of red krill. She felt different and rejected and alone because of her color. This problem of fitting in touched on issues of race and color, and thus a deep problem was immediately established by the student who created Jill.

    Working from an invisible character with both physical and psychological characteristics that have originated in the group, depth and interest are generated. Students become authentically involved with what is going on in class because the characters reflect genuine concerns of the students in our classrooms about life.

  2. The Bob et Shane story, also, is marvelous. A vase named Bob falls from an airplane, can’t pull open the chute bc he has no hands (“Je n’ai pas de mains!”), is caught by Shane, they have a big hug, and Shane crushes Bob.

    This is as good as it gets. The bravado of Bob is so much like the bravado of certain kids in school.

    Other points:

    In 2005 at NTPRS in Kansas City Joe Neilson made up a story about not having any hands. I remember it because it struck me that this kind of sentence in a story is the best way to teach grammar rules, in this case how after a complete negation in partitive situations in French we use de and not des, counterintuitively. It is an exception in French that all grammar teachers love to teach but that mystifies all but one or two kids in the class. But how easy it is taught here, and for all to get right on the test not because they understand the rule but because it sounds right!

    All we have to remember now, and I am sure Phil would agree, is that our job is to not expect and work towards such home run stories. They happen but are more gifts than things we achieve. Rather, we do the best we can and that already is enough.


    1. I would like to add a couple of details to that Bob and Shane story you have linked at the top of the page Ben in the hope that it might assist others as I learnt a really valuable lesson in this class that might be helpful to others in the story asking process.
      It was a funny story that seemed at one stage to be ending at the point where Shane catches Bob this mad adventure seeking fragile glass vase as he tumbles from a failed skydive attempt. The class was silent as it seemed we had reached a natural conclusion when Shane catches Bob.
      I was thinking a few steps ahead and thought wouldn’t it be funny if after catching Bob the vase Shane hugs him so tightly that he accidentally and tragically smashed him?
      I had to coax the students to this or to an alternative but equally funny idea. We did our best to act out the falling and the catching once again. the two actors were “barometer” students who were the best of friends. they acted out the slow motion catching. They naturally hugged. I asked is it a strong hug or a weak hug? ..was it a long or short hug?…. everybody agreed it was a strong and long hug with tears of joy from both …I asked does Bob like the hug I asked ….everybody agreed that he did. One student piped up …”non il est un vase très fragile” (no he is a very fragile vase) this was circled heavily earlier. the same student said…”le vase est cassé maintenant!” (the vase is broken how!) They all laughed and were all convinced that they had come up with the ending and they did with nudging from me. I have been in this situation where I have had an idea in the stories and because students are struggling for ideas I anxiously fill in the blanks with my idea but by doing this I take ownership of the story from them and it is my creativity on show not theirs. This taught me a valuable lesson.
      You called it a “home run story” it was certainly that for the students. We don’t often hit home runs but the success of this particular story meant real involvement in future stories as they wanted to replicate the experience and it did happen, not often but frequently enough for the momentum to carry us through the year.

      1. And Phil you touched on a very important shift in this work, for some of us here anyway, when you mentioned that one phrase had been heavily circled – “He is a fragile vase.” Some of us here feel that we don’t need to do heavy circling anymore, that we can carry the story through without heavy circling to the benefit of all concerned. I’ll just mention that as a change that we are working through from old TPRS. Light circling is what we embrace now. I’ll leave that topic here or this comment will be a mile long.

        Another point to raise is how you (all of us have been there/done that and we don’t like it) “anxiously fill in the blanks” with your ideas during the story. This is another thing to mention here, besides the comment about heavy circling, that some of us here don’t do anymore. It is because we have found that when no targets are used – and when the discussion is based on images instead of targeted words – the flow of the conversation obviates the instructor having to invite the students to fill in the blanks, which they rarely do anyway and even then it is the same 5-7 students, which creates a deep imbalance in the class over the course of the academic year.

        This is a powerful thing to say and one that drives Tina and I forward into our summer workshops and the Portland conference with determination to offer an alternative to what has been done in the past in TPRS. We think that some teachers, those predisposed and open to non-targeted instruction, might want to stop bowing down at the alters of Circling and Targeting and see what happens.

        We want to convey to teachers that light circling and uncoaxed input from the students (from the entire class) may be a better option for some teachers than the traditional TPRS focus on heavy circling and getting the kids to suggest cute answers. The question comes to mind: “How long can the jury be out on TPRS? 20 more years?”

        How we do that – create uncoaxed student driven stories based on student-created images – was just being developed – still in its first year – when we met in Agen and so we were unable to get past the One Word Image strategy that week, but now we know so much more, especially re: circling and targeting and reading novels, which never worked for me because the kids far prefer reading the libraries created in their schools as per what you said.

        Tina and I have options that we are not saying are better – because there are many paths up the mountain – but that nevertheless deserve the attention of those for whom TPRS has been a pain in the ass.

        1. Thanks for you comments Ben,
          I am glad about what you said about circling; when I said the phrase “un vase fragile” was heavily circled it is a bit misleading…..I have found it hard to do the 60 plus reps on a new word or phrase despite my efforts. Now that you are saying there is an argument not to be doing the traditional heavily circling I don’t feel so bad as it has been a burden at times on the students and it was difficult to sustain it.

          The targets for the Bob and Shane story were; “quelque chose de dangereux” (something dangerous) and voulait (wanted). It is a long story because Bob le vase fragile started as a one word image that you taught us in depth in Agen. In the next class we then created that story about him.

          You are also right about the fact that the same 5 or 6 are the ones to offer the story ideas and that this creates an imbalance.I do need to focus more on the non-targeted material next September. I am going to read up on this and come back to ask everybody for help if needed, (I am sure it will be).

          1. …I have found it hard to do the 60 plus reps on a new word or phrase despite my efforts. …

            This is a myth. I challenged Susan Gross in about 2005 about this. We were standing in a parking lot after a workshop and I asked her why, in answer to a question about how many times to circle a structure in one class period, she answered “50-70”. She said she made it up.

          2. On the 60 reps on each structure “rule” which is not really a rule, Phil, it is this kind of thinking, these little “rules” about targeting and circling esp. but also backwards planning from novels (impossible to do sufficiently), and all the little pieces of advice that have turned TPRS into something hard. Making and following and teaching lists instead of hanging out with the kids about things that they want to talk about is hard. I acknowledge that there are many ways up the mountain, but I like mountains that aren’t so hard to get up to the top of, with so many twists and turns, and drop-offs. We have a mountain here – Mt. Audubon – that is pretty much a gentle highway slope straight up to the top of a 13,000′ peak where a spectacular view awaits – that’s my idea of how our stories should go, with no effort. Otherwise, what are we doing?

          3. I just had a meeting with Laura, an ESOL coach and a certified GLAD trainer. We talked about Wades conference which she’s coming to to train the immersion teachers in GLAD strategies. If you guys don’t know about Project GLAD, you should check it out. It’s nontargeted input’s cousin. Its older cousin who’s been to college. It is a content delivery system that I firmly believe has a lot to teach us about the third and fourth years of world language.

          4. Phil said:

            …I am going to read up on this and come back to ask everybody for help if needed, (I am sure it will be)….

            This will be true for everyone who reads here on non-targeted and the Invisibles process because it is all so new to all of us. So you are not alone, Phil. It’s a chance for us to get to higher ground in this work.



          5. I will be doing the same, Phil. I plan on re-reading Ben’s Invisibles book and immersing myself in many many youtube videos of stories using the Invisibles. It’s homework but fun homework.

  3. Leigh Anne Munoz

    I haven’t been reading thoroughly, but, for anybody who wants to try a universal, public forum for publishing, the University of North Carolina has:

    The Tar Heel Reader

    It’s very easy to use.

    My students have published 35 stories this year. It was fun for them to tell their stories and share them with the world.

    Cheers, everyone! Fight the good fight!

  4. Backwards planning. I always have this picture in my mind of starting too far out because we have lofty goals. And then we work back to the ability level of our students. But then when we get to the end our time frame (or rather to the beginning) we are still several hundred yards from the starting point. Sorry kids…we just couldn’t get the track laid all the way back to your station.

    Greg Duncan said that it is nothing more than Steven Covey’s “Plan with the end in mind.”

    So my goal is for my students to hear and understand. Except when they are reading. Then I want them to read and understand. That means I have to speak so that they understand, and provide them with reading that I think they will understand. (Or read with them to help them understand.)

  5. What Nathaniel says here contains real wisdom. It implies, in my own interpretation at least, that we need not be so specific about planning the readings toward certain structures. I read the entire comment as a strong support for NT input, even if that was not his intention. Too much game playing – twenty years worth – has been going on with backwards planning of the novels and in this statement Nathaniel explains why it doesn’t work. This is I see it myself anyway – I may be misreading it.

    Nathaniel (italics mine):

    …so my goal is for my students to hear and understand. Except when they are reading. Then I want them to read and understand. That means I have to speak so that they understand, and provide them with reading that I think they will understand. (Or read with them to help them understand.)….

    He does not say “provide them with the words that I think they will understand”.

  6. “I was really inspired by what S. Krashen said in Agen about compiling student stories and creating a library of resources that grows year by year”

    This is a big deal to me. Pleasure reading is a HUGE part of a good non-targeted CI program; however there is so little pleasure reading out there. Don’t get me wrong, I think we are deeply indebted to the pioneers who have written the first 30 or 40 TPRS Publishing/Fluency Fast style novels; however there’s almost no books other than in Spanish, and the most basic of those only begin to be easy enough to be pleasure reading in level 2 (maybe 4 or 5 books), and the majority of them level 3 or 4 (the remaining 30 or so books). Plus, most students are only going to find a few of the 35 or so interesting.

    We have to provide more easy, highly interesting reading to our students, especially our level 1’s, in order to have a successful reading program.

    There are two projects right now that I know of trying to fill this need:

    1. Mike Peto’s Great FVR Cartoon Library (

    2. And my small, brand new database of Invisibles stories on my small, brand new blog ( Go check it out!

    Phil–I would love to host your Invisibles stories on my database if you send them to me (

    Ben–Where do you stand on independent reading? I know you read the class-generated stories all in class as a class all the time. But what about independent pleasure reading?

    If you believe in building an archive of easy-to-read-for-beginners-and-up and HIGHLY INTERESTING short stories, could you throw your weight behind these initiative and get the ball rolling?

    1. Yes I’ll post a new article but delay it until August here so more people read it, and then when things get cranked up in a month we can promote this idea at regular intervals throughout the school year.

      It’s a perfect solution for me. About five years ago I quit using the class novels. As you point out so correctly, the kids (1) can’t read them (we need not go into why this is true but it has something to do with s-c-r-e-e-n-s) and don’t want to read them (no need to go into why on this second point either).

      But since I had very little resources of the kind you are going to be generating on your new site, I just piled up the novels on a desk and the kids did SSR with them for the first ten minutes of class. But your idea is better. I’ll post that article now .but it won’t show up for a month.

  7. …the most basic of those only begin to be easy enough to be pleasure reading in level 2….

    I am so glad to hear that someone else thinks this way. I have been against “level 1 novels” for many years now, in favor of reading only class created stories in the first year, apart from our SSR when the kids can read anything they want for the first 10′ of class.

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